Buying Guides -> Software -> Music Manager
Team CHIP | 23 March 2011
16 contenders do battle in this comparison of the top 2.1 speaker systems. Read on to find out which one came out on top.
By FRANCIS D'SA
In this age of digital entertainment, computers are the most powerful entertainment hubs. From watching movies, to listening to music, to watching videos on YouTube, computers are increasingly becoming an important part of every living room. It is one device that can do almost anything when it comes to entertainment, be it gaming, streaming videos from one room to the other, capturing your favorite television programs, or surfing the Internet, besides standard media features like watching movies or listening to music. But at the end of the day, what’s an action movie or a first-person shooter without big sound? With the launch of numerous game titles month after month and the ease of access to movies and music, a personal computer is incomplete without a good set of speakers. Wouldn’t you want to watch the latest movies or play your favorite games with the best quality sound?
The most affordable speakers come in the form of simple 2.0 stereo systems. These are restricted to low decibel levels and are perfect of listening to light music while working or casual movie watching. Then come the more powerful 2.1 speakers systems that add a subwoofer to deliver low frequencies. With a more profound bass, movies and games sound even more dramatic. Thunderous blasts, thuds, and gunshots will sound the way they’re meant to. However, how real they sound depends on the quality of speakers you invest in.
Entry-level 2.1 speakers dish out better volume levels than 2.0 speakers, but they may not necessarily sound better. The bass may be too boomy, the treble may overshadow the vocals, or in some cases, the subwoofer might have been added just for the sake of it. A good speaker system isn’t the one that’s simply loud, but the one that also delivers a good balance of high, mid and low frequencies, and that’s what premium 2.1 speaker systems promise. They are meant for those who really want to enjoy movies, music and games. The premium segment starts with smaller speakers that cost Rs 3,000 to audiophile-class power houses that cost Rs 25,000 or more.
In this round up, we invited the top multimedia speaker manufacturers to send in the best they had to offer in the premium and audiophile-class segments. We had models from various brands, including Altec Lansing, Creative, JBL and Logitech. The overwhelming response was quite evident from the huge pile of speakers in one section of our Test Center. They came in all shapes and sizes. While some sported additional features such as FM radio, others included card readers and USB hosts, which could play MP3 music straight from a flash card or pen drive.
Our goal was to find out which speaker system offers the best multimedia experience, and which one offers the best bang for your buck. Flip over to find out how we tested each of them and which one shook our Test Center for real.
For me, excellent audio output takes top priority, and I'm sure the same applies to anyone who loves quality music. Hence, I always recommend a speaker that has a blend of highs and lows. When opting for a speaker system, I would recommend that you take a complete demo of the audio quality. Carry along some personal music of different genres to get a feel of the quality of audio the speakers can deliver.
Most brands market their speakers with exorbitant power ratings, which are in PMPO. However, these figures are misleading, because these do not pronounce “quality” in any way. The speakers should sound good rather than just be loud. Check the RMS value of the speakers, and not the PMPO rating. The build quality of the speakers also greatly affects the sound quality. Take a good look at the sub-woofer housing; it should be sturdy, tough and reasonably heavy to offer good bass. Similarly, a good looking satellite speaker will not necessarily sound good. If possible, opt for a speaker set that offers three-way speaker drivers.
If you check out this round-up, the F&D FD600, which won the best performance award, has all of the above qualities. The brand name does not matter as long as the sound quality is outstanding. The speakers throw out a good blend of highs, mids and a perfectly wonderful bass. With Altec Lansing and Creative among the herd of speakers we received for testing, we were very surprised to see F&D crowned as the king. The looks did not impress, but when we turned on the power, we were shocked. F&D’s A510 is equally good, taking second place. Both the speakers have good cabinet material (sub-woofer), which helps produce excellent sound.
On the other hand, Altec Lansing’s speakers have an excellent overall build and also sounded great. Though the Expressionist-Plus and the Octane 7 took the third and fourth places respectively, I would still recommend the F&D speakers. F&D should work a little harder on the aesthetics as this is one area that may turn off buyers.
F&D is not a familiar name in the speakers segment, but when it comes to sound quality, the F&D FD600 managed to outdo some of the biggest names in the category. The speakers do not feature any additional goodies such as FM radio or a built-in MP3 player like some of the others in the roundup. The overall build quality of the speakers is below average; the two-way satellites have a rather large footprint and are enclosed in an unconvincing plastic shell. But the best feature of the satellites are the connections. Unlike the others, which feature RCA type jacks to connect the speakers to the subwoofer, this one has push-type speaker connectors, which allow you to increase the length of the wires and place the speakers at a greater distance. The subwoofer has a reflex port orientation built into the front and it packs quite a punch, throwing out a breathtaking bass. The volume control knob is located on the front panel of the speaker, which is quite painful, especially when you need to turn down the volume instantly. The FD600 is the ideal audio companion for music, movies or casual gaming. A good choice for those looking for good sound quality at a reasonable price.
Verdict: If sound quality is your top priority, FD600 should top your list.
For: Awesome sound quality.
Against: Flimsy satellites.
The LS21 seems to be an economical 2.1 speaker set money can buy, and that has helped it bag the Best Value title. The total power output is just 7 watts, with the satellites spewing out merely 1.5 watts each. The satellites are built using a single driver and are enclosed in a good quality, but glossy plastic shell. The two satellites are joined together using a single 3.5-mm jack, restricting you from placing them far apart. The subwoofer has a below average build; the wooden shell is quite hollow and doesn’t feel too assuring. An inline control pod is an advantage, housing the power switch, volume control and a headphone jack, but sadly, it cannot be disconnected from the subwoofer. On the performance front, the LS21 did not manage to rack up even half as many points of the Best Performance winner. We found the speakers to get quite hoarse at higher volume levels due to the jarring bass from the subwoofer. The overall sound quality is disappointing, but the LS21 is good enough for those who need a basic speaker set for casual music, video or TV playback. The Logitech LS21 can also be a good add-on for MP3 players or portable media players.
Verdict: Good enough for casual entertainment.
For: Inline control pod, decently priced.
Against: Below average sound, low wattage, poor build of the subwoofer.